The Cure for Affluenza
Matthew 6.5-8, 16-18
Dr. Jim Denison
“They were running hand in hand, and the Queen went so fast that it was all [Alice] could do to keep up with her: and still the Queen kept crying ‘Faster! Faster!’… The most curious part of the thing was, that … however fast they went, they never seemed to pass anything … ‘In our country,’ said Alice, … ‘you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you ran very fast for a long time as we’ve been doing.’ ‘A slow sort of country!’ said the Queen. ‘Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that'” (Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, in Arthur Simon, How Much Is Enough? 49).
Psychologist Jessie O’Neill specializes in the treatment of what the doctor calls “Affluenza”—runaway consumerism which drives us to stress but leaves us unfulfilled.
Here’s an example of the problem. Gerard Straub, network TV producer, explains why he abandoned his lucrative career: “The joys I’ve experienced in life have all been lined with sadness … All around me, I see people fighting to suppress the sadness by searching for joy in a wide array of ways: sex, power, fame, fortune, drugs. We crowd into gigantic malls and gobble up all the goodies on display. We consume more than we need because we think we need more than we have … But the sadness remains” (How Much Is Enough? p. 19).
Author Art Simon comments: “The problem is not that we’ve tried faith and found it wanting, but that we’ve tried [materialism] and found it addictive, and as a result find following Christ inconvenient” (p. 21).
All the while the prophet Isaiah asks us, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:2).
Richard Foster says there is misery when people lack provision, but there is also misery when we try to make a life out of provision. He’s right.
How do we escape the affluenza which surrounds us? How do we find lives filled with purpose which lasts beyond the next promotion or purchase? Deep joy which cannot be lost in the stock market? Transcendent peace which the morning news cannot steal? Let’s ask Jesus.
Trust God with your time (5-8)
Jesus’ Sermon addresses two issues in our lives today. The first is prayer—dos and don’ts. What Jesus teaches may surprise you. “And when you pray,” he begins. Jesus assumes that his hearers would pray.
He was right. Frequency of prayer was not their problem.
The central affirmation of Jewish faith was the “Shema,” a statement which required memorizing 20 verses from Deuteronomy and Numbers. The Jews said it every morning as soon as possible, and every evening before 9 p.m.
They repeated another set of 19 prayer requests every morning, afternoon, and evening.
They prayed specifically when they lit a fire, saw lightning, comets, a new moon, a storm, or the sea, received good news, used new furniture, and entered or left the city.
Their Rabbi Levi taught, Whoever is long in prayer is heard.” The problem was not the amount but the motive.
Some would pray standing in the synagogues. Standing was the usual posture of prayer. The synagogue was where the religious gathered. To pray standing before them is obviously to be seen by them, as would be the case if any of you stood and began praying right now.
Some prayed standing on street corners. These were where crowds stopped for business or to talk, and could be seen from all four directions. Picture a street-corner in downtown Dallas, and you have the idea. Jews were required to pray each day at 9 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m. They could arrange their schedule so as to be in the synagogue or on a street corner when the hour of prayer arrived. And they often did.
To pray for these reasons was to be a “hypocrite,” literally an actor who played more than one role. Actors only act before crowds. Spiritual actors only pray where they will be seen praying.
Many kept on “babbling like pagans” as well (v. 7), thinking that they could impress God with their many and eloquent words.
Jesus had to warn his followers about praying to impress people, which shows that the problem is a very real temptation. It still is.
Last weekend Janet and I visited the LBJ library and museum. It was a fascinating trip back in time, and reminded me of the time Bill Moyers was at a meeting with the president and was asked to lead in prayer. As Moyers was praying, President Johnson said, “Speak up—I can’t hear you.” To which Moyers replied, “I wasn’t speaking to you, Mr. President.”
So how are we to pray?
Regularly: “when you pray” (v. 6a). Have a set appointment to meet with your Father every morning, and through the day.
Secretly: “go into your room, close the door” (v. 6b). “Room” meant a closet or storeroom where the treasures were stored. Set aside a place where you will not be distracted by work or anything else, where you can meet only and secretly with God.
Intentionally: “pray to your Father, who is unseen” (v. 6c). R. A. Torrey: “we should never utter one syllable of prayer, either in public or in private, until we are definitely conscious that we have come into the presence of God and are actually praying to Him.”
Expectantly: “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (v. 8). He promised through the prophet: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).
Why pray? Not to tell God what he already knows, but to agree with his will. To surrender to his purpose. To trust our need and lives to his care. He can only give what we will receive. In prayer his Spirit molds our spirit, his heart our heart.